Basket-hilted sword

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A typical schiavona of the late 17th century. Schiavona-Morges.jpg
A typical schiavona of the late 17th century.
Juxtaposition of an early broadsword with quillons with a 17th-century schiavona, from The Encyclopaedia of Sport & Games (1911) Broadswords.JPG
Juxtaposition of an early broadsword with quillons with a 17th-century schiavona, from The Encyclopaedia of Sport & Games (1911)
Portrait of Donald McBane, a Scottish fencing master, from Donald McBane's The Expert Swordsman's Companion (1728). This image portrays McBane in the "Inside Guard" with a broadsword, while the table next to him has both broadswords and smallswords. The wall behind him has a targe with flintlock pistols on each side Donald McBane, Scottish Fencing Master.jpg
Portrait of Donald McBane, a Scottish fencing master, from Donald McBane's The Expert Swordsman's Companion (1728). This image portrays McBane in the "Inside Guard" with a broadsword, while the table next to him has both broadswords and smallswords. The wall behind him has a targe with flintlock pistols on each side

The basket-hilted sword is a sword type of the early modern era characterised by a basket-shaped guard that protects the hand. The basket hilt is a development of the quillons added to swords' crossguards since the Late Middle Ages. In modern times, this variety of sword is also sometimes referred to as the broadsword. [1] [2]


The basket-hilted sword was generally in use as a military sword, in contrast with the rapier, the slim duelling sword worn with civilian dress during the same period, although each did find some use in both military and civilian contexts. A further distinction applied by arms historians and collectors is that a true broadsword possesses a double-edged blade, while similar wide-bladed swords with a single sharpened edge and a thickened back are called backswords. Various forms of basket-hilt were mounted on both broadsword and backsword blades. [3]

One of the weapon types in the modern German dueling sport of Mensur ("academic fencing") is the basket-hilted Korbschläger. [4]


The basket-hilted sword is a development of the 16th century, rising to popularity in the 17th century and remaining in widespread use throughout the 18th century, used especially by heavy cavalry up to the Napoleonic era.

One of the earliest basket-hilted swords was recovered from the wreck of the Mary Rose, an English warship lost in 1545. Before the find, the earliest positive dating had been two swords from around the time of the English Civil War. [5] At first the wire guard was a simple design but as time passed it became increasingly sculpted and ornate. [6]

The basket-hilted sword was a cut and thrust sword which found the most use in a military context, contrasting with the rapier, the similarly heavy, thrust-oriented sword most often worn with civilian dress which evolved from the espada ropera or spada da lato type during the same period. The term "broadsword" was used in the 17th and 18th centuries, referring to double-edged basket-hilted swords. The term was introduced to distinguish these cut and thrust swords from the smaller and narrower smallsword.

By the 17th century there were regional variations of basket-hilts: the Walloon hilt, the Sinclair hilt, schiavona, mortuary sword, Scottish broadsword, and some types of eastern European pallasches. [7] [8] [9] The mortuary and claybeg variants were commonly used in the British isles, whether domestically produced or acquired through trade with Italy and Germany. They also influenced the 18th-century cavalry sabre. [10]

During the 18th century, the fashion of duelling in Europe focused on the lighter smallsword, and fencing with the broadsword came to be seen as a speciality of Scotland. A number of fencing manuals teaching fencing with the Scottish broadsword were published throughout the 18th century.

Descendants of the basket-hilted sword, albeit in the form of backswords with reduced "half" or "three-quarter" baskets, remained in use in cavalry during the Napoleonic era and throughout the 19th century, specifically as the 1796 Heavy Cavalry Sword, the Gothic Hilted British Infantry Swords of the 1820s to 1890s, the 1897 Pattern British Infantry Officer's Sword and as the Pattern 1908 and 1912 cavalry swords down to the eve of World War I.



The Schiavona was a Renaissance sword that became popular in Italy during the 16th and 17th centuries. [11] Stemming from the 16th-century sword of the Balkan mercenaries who formed the bodyguard of the Doge of Venice, the name came from the fact that the guard consisted largely of the Schiavoni , Istrian and Dalmatian Slavs. [9] It was widely recognisable for its "cat's-head pommel" and distinctive handguard made up of many leaf-shaped brass or iron bars that was attached to the cross-bar and knucklebow rather than the pommel. [9]

Classified as a true broadsword, this war sword had a wider blade than its contemporary civilian rapiers. While a rapier is primarily a thrusting sword, a schiavona is a cut and thrust sword that has extra weight for greater penetration. It was basket-hilted (often with an imbedded quillon for an upper guard) and its blade was double edged. A surviving blade measures 93.2 cm × 3.4 cm × 0.45 cm and bears two fullers or grooves running about 1/4 the length of the blade. Weighing in at around 1.1 kg, this blade was useful for both cut and thrust. [12]

The schiavona became popular among the armies of those who traded with Italy during the 17th century and was the weapon of choice for many heavy cavalry. [13] It was popular among mercenary soldiers and wealthy civilians alike; examples decorated with gilding and precious stones were imported by the upper classes to be worn as a combination of fashion accessory and defensive weapon. [14]

Mortuary sword

A similar weapon was the cut-and-thrust mortuary sword which was used after 1625 by cavalry during the English Civil War. This (usually) two-edged sword sported a half-basket hilt with a straight blade some 90–105 cm long. These hilts were often of very intricate sculpting and design.

After the execution of King Charles I (1649), basket-hilted swords were made which depicted the face or death mask of the "martyred" king on the hilt. These swords came to be known as "mortuary swords", and the term has been extended to refer to the entire type of Civil War–era broadswords by some 20th-century authors. [15]

This sword was Oliver Cromwell's weapon of choice; the one he owned is now held by the Royal Armouries, and displayed at the Tower of London. Mortuary swords remained in use until around 1670 when they fell out of favor among civilians and began to be replaced with the smallsword. [10]

Scottish broadsword

A painting by David Morier (1705?-1770) depicting one of the final moments of the last Jacobite Rebellion, at the Battle of Culloden, the last battle fought on British soil. The Battle of Culloden.jpg
A painting by David Morier (1705?–1770) depicting one of the final moments of the last Jacobite Rebellion, at the Battle of Culloden, the last battle fought on British soil.

A common weapon among the clansmen during the Jacobite rebellions of the late 17th and early 18th centuries was the Scottish basket hilted broadsword, commonly known as claidheamh mor or claymore meaning "great sword" in Gaelic. Some authors suggest that claybeg should be used instead, from a purported Gaelic claidheamh beag "small sword". This does not parallel Scottish Gaelic usage. According to the Gaelic Dictionary by R. A. Armstrong (1825), claidheamh mòr "big/great sword" translates to "broadsword", and claidheamh dà làimh to "two-handed sword", while claidheamh beag "small sword" is given as a translation of "Bilbo". [16] In close quarters, the claymore was the ideal weapon of choice for combating British soldiers armed with long, unwieldy, muskets with plug bayonets. When paired with a targe (a strapped small circular shield) a highlander was provided with a staunch defence. This would allow him to block a bayonet with the targe and then attack his opponent.

At range, this strategy would do little against musket armed troops firing in volleys or artillery using canister shot (while effective against bayonets, the target would not fare so well against a musket ball), which necessitated tactics such as the "Highland Charge", which required a Jacobite war band to close with their targets as quickly as possible, normally under heavy fire, using the smoke from musket and cannon fire to cover the last leg of the assault before attacking the line. This risky strategy led to many casualties among the Jacobite clansmen against disciplined volley fire and massed artillery firing grape and canister shot.

In between rebellions, after the disastrous Jacobite defeat at the Battle of Culloden and the overall failure of the rebellions, it became illegal to carry claymores and targes.

Sinclair Hilt

The Sinclair Hilt was one of the earliest basket-hilt designs and was of south German origin. [17] On average the blade of a Sinclair or "compound" hilt sword measured 38in.[ citation needed ]

It had long quillons and an oval leather-wrapped grip that was originally designed for falchion blades but was soon applied to the broadsword. [18] It had a large triangular plate very similar to the ones used on main gauche daggers and was decorated with pierced hearts and diamonds. [19]

Hilts of this design were also used on other weapons including sabres, cutlasses, rapiers, backswords and civilian hunting hangers. [20]

A similar weapon was the Pallasch which had the same hilt and straight blade but was single-edged. It was used until the mid-18th century by the Austrian army and inspired the British 1796 Heavy Cavalry Sabre.

It is believed that these swords were brought back to Scotland by George Sinclair's mercenaries who had served on the continent. [21]

The Sinclair hilt broadsword influenced the development of the basket-hilted broadsword, which was used by highlanders in the 17th and 18th century. [22] After the Jacobite Wars it became a symbol of Scotland. [23]

Walloon sword

The so-called walloon sword (épée wallone) [24] or haudegen (hewing sword) was common in Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Scandinavia in the Thirty Years' War and Baroque era. The historian and sword typologist Ewart Oakeshott proposed an English origin for this type of sword, with subsequent development in the Netherlands and Germany. [25] Basket-hilted rapiers and sword-rapiers, characterised by pierced shell-guards, made during the same period are known as Pappenheimer rapiers. [26]

The Walloon sword was favoured by both the military and civilian gentry. [27] A distinctive feature of the Walloon sword is the presence of a thumb-ring, and it was therefore not ambidextrous. The most common hilt type featured a double shell guard and half-basket, though examples exist with hand protection ranging from a shell and single knuckle-bow to a full basket. [28] The hilt may have influenced the design of 18th century continental hunting hangers.[ citation needed ]

Following their campaign in the Netherlands in 1672 (when many of these German-made swords were captured from the Dutch), the French began producing this weapon as their first regulation sword. [29] Weapons of this design were also issued to the Swedish army from the time of Gustavus Adolphus until as late as the 1850s. [30]

See also


  1. "Broadswords". Retrieved 27 May 2014.
  2. Oakeshott, Ewart (2012) [1980]. European Weapons and Armour: From the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press. pp. 156, 173, 175. ISBN   978-1-84383-720-6.
  3. Martyn, pp. 6, 29
  4. see Korbschläger article in German Wikipedia.
  5. BBC News, "Sword from Mary Rose on display", 26 July 2007. Retrieved 9 February 2010.
  6. Oakeshott, Ewart, The Sword in the Age of Chivalry (1964).
  7. Henry Charles Howard Suffolk and Berkshire (Earl of), Hedley Peek, Frederick George Aflalo, The Encyclopaedia of Sport & Games, Volume 1 (1911), pp. 349–355.
  8. "Forms of European Edged Weaponry".
  9. 1 2 3 Robinson, Nathan. "The Schiavona and its influences." Retrieved on 4 December 2008.
  10. 1 2 Goodwin, William. "Mortuary Hilt Sword." Retrieved on 4 December 2008.
  11. Bink, J, A 17th century Masterpiece (Dec 8 2008)
  12. Schiavona
  13. Schiavona at
  14. Ross Dean, Antique andReplica Schiavonas (Dec 8 2008)
  15. "Many of these baskets were decorated with embossed heads‥taken to represent the executed King Charles I, and for this reason they are often described as mortuary swords." Frederick Wilkinson, Swords & daggers (1967), i.24. See also Cromwellian Scotland - Mortuary Sword
  16. A Gaelic Dictionary, p. 120. see also Wagner, Paul; Christopher Thompson (2005). "The words "claymore" and "broadsword"". SPADA. Highland Village, Texas: The Chivalry Bookshelf. 2: 111–117.. Dwelly's Illustrated Gaelic to English Dictionary (Gairm Publications, Glasgow, 1988, p. 202); Culloden – The Swords and the Sorrows (The National Trust for Scotland, Glasgow, 1996).
  17. Oakeshott, E. (2012) [1980]. European Weapons and Armour: From the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press. pp. 172–173. ISBN   978-1-84383-720-6.
  18. Replica Sinclair Hilt Sword. Retrieved on 4 December 2008.
  19. Main Gauche Dagger with sinclair hilt. Retrieved on 4 December 2008.
  20. Forms of European edged weaponry. Retrieved on 4 December 2008
  21. Mad Piper Archived 17 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine . Retrieved on 4 December 2008.
  22. Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Claymore". Encyclopædia Britannica . 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 474.
  23. Acts of Union. Retrieved on 4 December 2008.
  24. Vladimir Brnardic, Darko Pavlovic, Imperial Armies of the Thirty Years' War (2): Cavalry, Osprey Publishing, 2010, ISBN   978-1-84603-997-3, p.20 Archived 21 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine .
  25. Oakeshott, p. 172
  26. Pappenheimer
  27. Grandy, B, Phoenix Metal Creations Pappenheimer Sword (Dec 5 2009)
  29. MyArmoury - Walloon Swords
  30. "Armemuseum - Varjor". Archived from the original on 11 May 2009. Retrieved 4 July 2011.

Related Research Articles

A sword is a bladed melee weapon intended for cutting or thrusting that is longer than a knife or dagger, consisting of a long blade attached to a hilt. The precise definition of the term varies with the historical epoch or the geographic region under consideration. The blade can be straight or curved. Thrusting swords have a pointed tip on the blade, and tend to be straighter; slashing swords have a sharpened cutting edge on one or both sides of the blade, and are more likely to be curved. Many swords are designed for both thrusting and slashing.

Rapier Slender, sharply pointed sword

A rapier or espada ropera is a type of sword with a slender and sharply-pointed two-edged blade that was popular in Western Europe, both for civilian use and as a military side arm, throughout the 16th and 17th centuries.

A backsword is a type of sword characterised by having a single-edged blade and a hilt with a single-handed grip. It is so called because the triangular cross section gives a flat back edge opposite the cutting edge. Later examples often have a "false edge" on the back near the tip, which was in many cases sharpened to make an actual edge and facilitate thrusting attacks. From around the early 14th century the backsword became the first type of European sword to be fitted with a knuckle guard.

A longsword is a type of European sword characterized as having a cruciform hilt with a grip for two-handed use, a straight double-edged blade of around 85 to 110 cm, and weighing approximately 1 to 1.5 kg.

<i>Dao</i> (sword) Single-edged Chinese sword primarily used for slashing and chopping

Dao are single-edged Chinese swords, primarily used for slashing and chopping. The most common form is also known as the Chinese sabre, although those with wider blades are sometimes referred to as Chinese broadswords. In China, the dao is considered one of the four traditional weapons, along with the gun, qiang (spear), and the jian, called in this group “The General of Weapons".

Small sword Light one-handed sword designed for thrusting

The small sword or smallsword is a light one-handed sword designed for thrusting which evolved out of the longer and heavier rapier of the late Renaissance. The height of the small sword's popularity was between mid 17th and late 18th century, when any man, civilian or military, with pretensions to gentlemanly status would have worn a small sword on a daily basis.

Swordsmanship or sword fighting refers to the skills of a swordsman, a person versed in the art of the sword. The term is modern, and as such was mainly used to refer to smallsword fencing, but by extension it can also be applied to any martial art involving the use of a sword. The formation of the English word "swordsman" is parallel to the Latin word gladiator, a term for the professional fighters who fought against each other and a variety of other foes for the entertainment of spectators in the Roman Empire. The word gladiator itself comes from the Latin word gladius, which is a type of sword.

Singlestick Martial art that uses a stick 34 inches (86 cm) in length

Singlestick is a martial art that uses a wooden stick as its weapon. It began as a way of training soldiers in the use of backswords. Canne de combat, a French form of stick fighting, is similar to singlestick play, which also includes a self-defense variant with a walking stick.

Classification of swords

The English language terminology used in the classification of swords is imprecise and has varied widely over time. There is no historical dictionary for the universal names, classification or terminology of swords; A sword was simply a double edged knife.

Spada da lato

The spada da lato (Italian) or side-sword is a type of sword popular during the late 16th century. It is a continuation of the medieval arming sword, and the immediate predecessor of the rapier of the Early Modern period. Its use was taught in the Dardi school of Italian fencing, and was influential on the classical rapier fencing of the 17th century. The equivalent Spanish term, espada ropera is the origin of the term rapier. Italian antiquarians use the term spada da lato for rapiers typical of the period of c. 1560–1630, the Italian term for the fully developed rapier of the later 17th century is spada da lato striscia, or just spada striscia "strip-sword".

Waster Type of Practice Weapon

In martial arts, a waster is a practice weapon, usually a sword, and usually made out of wood, though nylon (plastic) wasters are also available. The use of wood or nylon instead of metal provides an economic and safe option for initial weapons training and sparring, at some loss of genuine experience. A weighted waster may be used for a sort of strength training, making the movements of using an actual sword comparatively easier and quicker. Wasters as wooden practice weapons have been found in a variety of cultures over a number of centuries, including ancient China, Ireland, Iran, Scotland, Rome, Egypt, medieval and renaissance Europe, Japan, and into the modern era in Europe and the United States. Over the course of time, wasters took a variety of forms not necessarily influenced by chronological succession, ranging from simple sticks to clip-point dowels with leather basket hilts to careful replicas of real swords.

Highland charge

The Highland charge was a battlefield shock tactic used by the clans of the Scottish Highlands which incorporated the use of firearms.

Pata (sword) South Asian sword

The pata or patta is a sword, originating from the Indian subcontinent, with a gauntlet integrated as a handguard. Often referred to in its native Marathi as a dandpatta, it is commonly called a gauntlet-sword in English.


A spadroon is a light sword with a straight-edged blade, enabling both cut and thrust attacks. This English term first came into use in the early 18th century, though the type of sword it referred to was in common usage during the late 17th century. They were primarily used as a military sidearm in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and for officers and NCOs in the latter part of the 18th and early 19th centuries. The type of sword also saw widespread use across Europe and America, though the term ‘spadroon’ is unique to the Anglophone world.

A claymore is a two-handed sword.

Parrying dagger

The parrying dagger is a category of small handheld weapons from the European late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. These weapons were used as off-hand weapons in conjunction with a single-handed sword such as a rapier. As the name implies they were designed to parry, or defend, more effectively than a simple dagger form, typically incorporating a wider guard, and often some other defensive features to better protect the hand as well. They may also be used for attack if an opportunity arises. The general category includes two more specific types, the sword breaker and trident dagger.

Firangi (sword) Type of Sword

The firangi (Marathi:फिरंगाना) was an Indian sword type which used blades manufactured in Western Europe, particularly Solingen, and imported by the Portuguese, or made locally in imitation of European blades.

Claymore Type of Sword

A claymore is either the Scottish variant of the late medieval two-handed sword or the Scottish variant of the basket-hilted sword. The former is characterised as having a cross hilt of forward-sloping quillons with quatrefoil terminations and was in use from the 15th to 17th centuries.

In the European High Middle Ages, the typical sword was a straight, double-edged weapon with a single-handed, cruciform hilt and a blade length of about 70 to 80 centimetres. This type is frequently depicted in period artwork, and numerous examples have been preserved archaeologically.

There is some evidence on historical fencing as practiced in Scotland in the Early Modern Era, especially fencing with the Scottish basket-hilted broadsword during the 17th to 18th centuries.